The Road to Amarlea, part 9

Iot, it thought, and the pleasure of the revelation made its entire substance ripple with delight. My name was Iot. My name is Iot. I am Iot. Iot is my name.

For a long while, the specter of what had been Iot just repeated its name to itself. Iot, Iot, Iot, it said to itself, and with every repetition, it felt stronger and more solid. More real. For so many decades, its existence had felt so precariously unreal, like a dream that never ends, that simply having a name to call itself felt exquisitely good. I am Iot. Iot is my name. My name is Iot. Over and over.

When at last this pleasure began to pale, it added details from its recently retrieved memories. I am Iot and I had a family. We lived on a farm between the river and the mountain hills. I had brothers and sisters, aunties and uncles, a mother and a father. They were all real people too. Finally, I knew who I am. I know which dream belongs to me. I know that at one point, I was a real, living person.

Before the coming of the mysterious star, Iot’s shade realized now, it had never known. It had existed without an identity and without a past, two things the living took so much for granted that they could not even imagine what it would be like to be without them.

It had never known, before now, which of the countless sets of memories and emotions embedded within its substance were its own. So much feeding and so much forgetting had robbed it of that knowledge. Now it knew for certain : it was Iot, and once it had been a little boy fishing by the river, and there it had met a little girl who had lost her doll.

There was something special about that girl. Iot’s shade could feel it. It would meet her again. It knew it. And the feeling it got from memories of her was so overwhelming pleasurable that it knew they had to be connected in some very deep way. It could hardly wait to find out how.

But no, now was not the time to be impatient. Everything it wanted would come in time, as long as it was careful. Tenderly, it inspected the delicate connections it had made to the mysterious star and its companion. With infinite care, it made slight adjustments to the filaments it had used to enter their minds, and probed just a little deeper.

As it did this, it knew that it was bringing the great dark shadow closer. This was the dark shadow that would either free Iot’s shade, or destroy it, or condemn it to Hell. The more it learned, the closer it was to its final reckoning, the one it had so long delayed and denied itself out of fear. Instead had been the cold, and the loneliness, and the forgetting.

Well no more. Before the sun rose and woke its two dreamers, it would face its own great shadow, and it could see right now that the shadow it had to face and the much greater and darker one that the two dreamers would face in the future were similar in nature, and that is why the power of the two is what Iot’s shade needs to propel it towards its own destiny.

Knowing this, Iot’s shade suddenly felt humbled and grateful that this greater destiny included its own. To think that the forces of fate would include a lost spirit like Iot’s shade into its plans at all made it feel very small, and overwhelmed it with humility and gratitude.

This feeling spilled over into affection for the two dreamers who would vouchsafe its deliverance, and Iot’s shade turned its ethereal gaze on them with great love and great wonder. To think that this two young man, not long out of boyhood themselves, had great and terrible things in their futures. They seemed so simple, so young, so innocent. Their desires were the simple desires of the young. New lives, new adventures, new challenges. The instinct for growth that is the root of courage. The inborn need to become more than you are. Iot’s shade cherished these things as he felt them in the dreamer’s minds, and for a moment, wept ghostly tears for the innocence that fate would surely destroy within them both.

But such was the fate of those chosen by destiny. Heroes and villains both might end up in the songs of the bards forever, but their lives were seldom pleasant or easy for long.

Besides, the night was only so long, and Iot’s shade still had much to do before the sun’s rising. It looked over the dreamers with great affection, and said each name to itself once to place them firmly within its mind.

Trevor. Pep. These are the ones to whom it owed everything. For however long it continued to exist, it would cherish those names and those memories.

With this firmly in its mind, Iot’s shade closed its ghostly eyes, and rejoined the dreaming.

“It is well dark, my son. ” said Trevor’s father Ogar. “You were told to always be home before the sun touched the mountain’s peak. It is not like you to have to be told something twice. ”

Togar (the future Trevor) flinched and bowed his head, his enthusiastic mood burst like a bubble and his desire to tell his parents all that had happened to him today dying faster than a doused ember. He had known that he would be in trouble when he got home, it being nearly Full Dark, but somehow he had thought it would be his other Roga who would be recriminating him, and she would just box his ear and tell him he was a worthless fool for worrying her so and maybe pinch him, but then she would hug him and call him a fool again, then give him hot broth for supper.

He had even thought that perhaps it would be his older brothers, in their role as his mother’s enforcers, who would be punishing him. And he was prepared for that, although his brothers were quite creative when it came to meting out pain with their mother’s blessing.

But he had never once considered that it would be his father who would be there when he got back. He viewed his father with an equal mix of affection, awe, and outright terror. His father was a great dark presence in his life, and as far as Togar was concerned, the sun only rose and set because his father allowed it. The world belonged to Ogar. Everyone else just lived there.

Togar resisted the urge to throw himself to the floor and beg forgiveness, or run off into the mountains and never come back, and instead stood tall, looked his father in the eyes (almost), and solemnly said “I am sorry, Father. I offer no excuses. What I did was wrong, and I stand ready to accept whatever punishment you see fit. ”

Ogar nodded in approval, and said “Good. You at least remember how to accept your fate with honour. But tell me, my son. What was it that kept you so far from home for so long?”

Togar lowered his head again, unable to endure his father’s disapproving gaze. “It was a quest of my own, Father. No one in the settlement would tell me what lay below us on the mountain, so I decided that I would go find out for myself, and then come back here to tell everyone. And then… and then everyone would know what was down there!” Said like that, with his father glaring down at him, it did not sound so noble or brave.

“And did any of the people you asked express any desire for you to go on this quest for them?”

“Well… no… but I just figured that… ”

“And do you know why that is, my beloved son, the one I chose to bear my name in his own?”

Togar began to say something, but stopped, and simply said “No Father, I don’t. ”

“It is because they already know what is there, my son. You were right to say they would not tell you. They all know, and none would tell you, because such knowledge is forbidden to children like yourself. ” Ogar put just enough emphasis on the word “children” to make it clear to Togar that he was being put gently but firmly in his place.

A terrible thought occurred then to Togar. “So you mean that if I…. ”

Ogar nodded solemnly. “Yes, my chosen son. If you had simply waited till your New Moon Hunt, all would have been revealed. But always, it has been your curiosity that has lead you astray. ”

Togar nodded miserably. It was true. He was a very obedient and loyal son. It was not by accident that the gods had instructed his father to choose Togar as the son to bear his name. But looking back, those times when he had disobeyed or disappointed his father, it had been because his desire to learn things was too strong for him to control.

He really was an idiot, a fool, and a terrible son. Why had he thought that his own curiosity was more important that his loyalty to his family, his settlement, and his home? What was this madness that made him grow restless and need to seek out new things to learn? Unbidden, tears fell from his eyes. He had never been more miserable in his life. He could not even open his mouth to apologize.

Ignoring the tears, Ogar put a hand on Togar’s shoulder. “But do not despair, my son. I have thought long and hard about what to do with you, my chosen son. And I have had long talks with the elders as well. And we have come to a decision. ”

Togar shrank inside still more. He was such a bad son that he had caused his father to worry for a long time, and his shame was known to the elders as well. He wondered, did the whole village think of him as that strange boy Togar?

He knew what was expected of him now, at least.

“And what is that decision, Father?” he asked dutifully.

“That it is time you went to live with our Chieftain. You are to report to his tent tomorrow morning. Now get yourself to bed. I will not have you disgracing the family by showing up with red eyes. ”

Togar gaped up at his father. The Chieftain? But he was just a weird old man who did strange things and lived the Old Way. You hardly ever saw him except for at ceremonial occasions. He didn’t even hunt or fish or herd. People just left food outside his hut. What could the Chieftain possibly want with Togar?

Still, his father’s word was law. Togar headed to bed without his supper, and did his best to sleep.

But despite his best intentions, he lay a long time awake, staring at the stars through the hole cut in the roof for the smoke to get out, wondering what life had in store for him now.

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